The True Story of the St. Louis House That Inspired The Exorcist

For sale: three-bedroom Colonial in charming neighborhood. Hardwood floors. Lots of personality. And, oh yeah: Satan slept here.

The True Story of the St. Louis House That Inspired The Exorcist
RFT Archives/ Oct. 26, 2005

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click to enlarge The True Story of the St. Louis House That Inspired The Exorcist
RFT Archives/ Oct. 26, 2005

But just what occurred in the Hunkeler residence in the early morning hours of 1949? For that we turn to the diary of the exorcism, a copy of which Thomas Allen furnished the Riverfront Times.

Written in stark and stilted prose, the 26-page document begins at the home in Cottage City. It is there that the family reported hearing strange noises in the walls and beneath the floorboards. The scratching sounds continued for several days before becoming silent to everyone but the thirteen-year-old boy, who also complained of hearing "squeaking shoes" circling his bed at night.

In his book Possessed, Allen writes that the boy's favorite aunt, a spiritualist from St. Louis, introduced the child to the Ouija board during one of her earlier visits and suggests the boy may have channeled the possession through the board game. The diary, however, makes no mention of the Ouija board but does refer to the aunt. It was her ghost that the family first believed to be behind the noises.

But soon the spirit transformed from poltergeist to sinister specter. The boy's bed shook wildly throughout the night. Bibles and holy relics flew through the air. Claw-like scratches raked the child as he slept. When the word "Louis" rose up on his ribs, the family decided a trip to visit relatives in St. Louis might rid them of the haunting.

On Wednesday, March 9, 1949, Father Bishop visited the family at their relative's home on Roanoke Drive. Bishop, a professor at Saint Louis University and the author of the exorcism diary, blessed the entire dwelling before entering the bedroom, where he found the boy lying perfectly still on a bed that was rattling violently.

Writing in third-person and referring to the possessed boy by his first initial of R, the author reports: "Bishop sprinkled St. Ignatius Holy Water on the bed in the form of a cross. The movement ceased quite abruptly. During the course of fifteen minutes of activity a sharp pain seemed to have struck R on his stomach and he cried out. The mother quickly pulled back the bed covers and lifted the boy's pajama top enough to show zig-zag scratches in bold red lines."

Friday, March 11: Bishop returned with Father Bowdern, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church. "The boy was dozing when the bottle of St. Ignatius Holy Water was thrown from a table two feet from R's bed into a nearby corner, a distance of approximately six feet." Five minutes later: "A bookcase was moved from alongside the bed and turned completely around facing the entrance of the room."

Wednesday, March 16: The priests obtained approval from St. Louis archbishop Joseph E. Ritter to administer the rites of exorcism as spelled out in the centuries-old Catholic prayer book, the Roman Ritual.

That night, the diary reports, "Father Bowdern in surplice and stole began the prayers of exorcism. On the first 'Praecipio' there was immediate action. Three large parallel bars were scratched on the boy's stomach. From then on at the names of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother and St. Michael scratches appeared on the boy's legs, thighs, stomach, back, chest, face and throat. The most distinct marking on the body were the pictures of the Devil on R's right leg and the word 'HELL' imprinted on R's chest."

The nightly interventions at 8435 Roanoke Drive would continue for the next week, the child's reaction to the exorcism growing more extreme by the day.

From the Friday, March 18, entry: "The prayers of the exorcism were continued and R was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of R had to be held by three men. The contortions revealed physical strength beyond the natural power. R spit at the faces of those who held him and at those who prayed over him. He spit at the relics and at the priests' hands. He writhed under the sprinkling of Holy Water. He fought and screamed in a diabolical, high-pitched voice."

The night of Sunday, March 20, Bishop reports, the boy reacted with more violence than on any previous occasion: "The high point of the evening were urinations which really burned R, breaking wind through rectum three different times, and cursing the exorcists. Some of the vulgarity follows: 'Go to hell, you dirty sons of bitches. You dirty assholes.'"

Monday, March 21, the family, having had little sleep since the exorcism began, agreed to move the boy to Alexian Brothers Hospital for the night. For the next several weeks, the boy would move from the hospital to the College Church rectory and back to the home on Roanoke Drive, even returning to Cottage City for a few days when the priests erroneously thought the boy was cured.

The climax came the day after Easter — Monday, April 18 — when the boy awoke in a furor inside the psych ward of the Alexian Brothers Hospital. His seizures and spells continued through the morning, with the priests placing medals, rosaries and relics around his neck. In his hand they placed a crucifix.

The boy mocked the priests, saying, "He has to say one more word, one little word, I mean one BIG word. He'll never say it. I am always in him. I may not have much power always, but I am in him. He will never say that word."

Still, the priests endured, holding council over the boy in one final push to exorcise the demon. At 10:45 p.m. the boy lay still. In clear, commanding tones he shouted out: "Satan! Satan! I am St. Michael, and I command you Satan, and the other evil spirits to leave the body in the name of Dominus, immediately. Now! NOW! N-O-W!"

Seven minutes later the boy awoke to announce, "He's gone."

During his final spell, the diary reports, the boy saw a vision of the Devil and "ten of his helpers" engaged in a fiery battle with St. Michael the Archangel. At one point during the dream, the angel smiled at the boy and said "Dominus" (Latin for Lord), the word the boy vowed he'd never say that morning.

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